Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barbara Nadel: The Ottoman Cage

I got the recommendation for this book from Little Diamond; we have a long family tradition of trading books back and forth, my sisters, our children, even my mother; we are all sending books and exchanging suggestions all the time. I know I can count on Little Diamond and Sparkle for particularly good recommendations, and they never disappoint me.


When The Ottoman Cage arrived, I was put off by the cover. “Who’s Likely to Like This?” the cover asked – it seemed like screaming to me – “Fans of Donna Leon and exotic, atmospheric locales”

Remember, I am in a dark time, taxes, turbulence, destabilization. . . I am easily disgruntled when I am vulnerable like this. I don’t want to think I am so predictable. I love reading Donna Leon! So I am predisposed (grumble grumble grumble) NOT to like Barbara Nadel.

I fail miserably. The first five pages I am resisting. By the sixth page, I am ready to stay up all night to read this book (I don’t really, but I did finding myself making more time to read so I could find out what happens next.)

It is like the Donna Leon series in that while the plot is original and interesting, the real focus is on the police inspector, his crew, the relationships with friends and characters, the bureaucracy, and the way systems and institutions function in modern day Turkey.

One particular relationship was of great interest to me, that of Suleyman, who dutifully married his first cousin. They both tried very hard to make it work, but when we meet him, we discover that the marriage has become a painfully dry and desolate place, where each lead their individual lives, with very little of the relationship together.

Another character is detective Cohen, a rare Jew in the police force described as follows:

When one has been known and admired as a prolific womanizer for most of one’s adult life, any change in that situation can come rather hard. Although Cohen had been married since the age of nineteen, he had never let that fact or indeed his rather short stature and dishevelled apearance hold him back from the most ardent pursuit of other women. Jokey charm, of which he possessed copious amounts, had always seen him through. The knowledge that women love a man who can make them laugh had successfully taken him to many bedrooms and had, quite frequently, resulted in his being asked back again. Until this year.

Whether it was because now he was on the ‘wrong’ sied of forty five or just a patch of ill fortune, Cohen didn’t know but the fact was beyond dispute. Women, it seemed, didn’t want him any more. The rbuffs and even in one notable case the cruel sound of mocking laughter were hideously painful for him to bear. Even his long-suffering wife, who had for so many years pleaded with him to leave other women alone and attend to her, had lost interest. He’d tried to find a little comfort in her arms the previous night when he found that he couldn’t sleep, but she, like all the lithe little girls that he still so desired, had just sent him on his way, back to his customary couch, flinging her curses in his unfaithful wake.

It was, Cohen would have been the first to admit, his own fault. Had he bothered to try and be faithful to Estelle he would now, in his middle years, have both a friend and a over with whom he could take comfort as the lines overwhelmed his face and the loose skin around his middle began to sag. His wife was, after all, ageing like himself and, unlike the pretty little tarts he hankered after, unable to point mocking fingers at his inadequacies.

The plot hinges on a dead boy, a beautiful boy, found dead, alone, on a bed in an empty, tasteful but unlived in home. Who is he? Why is he here? Why is he dead?

We meet the gossipy neighbors, we meet the Armenian community, we meet some of the lowest characters you would ever hope to meet, the kind the police deal with every single day. Nothing is simple, one single clue leads slowly, painfully to another. I give credit to Nadel; she relies on good honest police work, chasing down the clues, going through the stacks of old files, interviewing unsavory lowlifes; the things good police really do to solve their cases.

More than the plot, I loved the rich and intricate textures of this mystery novel, I loved the descriptions of the interiors and the interior lives of the characters. Nadel has that in common with the other writers I read serially – Leon, Pattison, Qiu Xiaolon, James Burke and Peter Bowen. It is another rich entry into the genre of the “mystery novel set in exotic, atmospheric locations.”

Definitely worth a read!

March 21, 2009 - Posted by | Aging, Beauty, Books, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Entertainment, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Relationships, Social Issues, Turkey

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